Do You Value Sport?
As we watched the exciting events that occurred over the past couple of weeks, the Paralympic values of courage, determination, inspiration and equality were on display. The elite athletes that competed on this global stage will no doubt inspire more young athletes to engage in sport. No matter what level of competition, the benefits of sport participation are immense. Through sport, children learn important life skills and improve their physical and mental health. Sport taught and played correctly also helps children at a very early age learn the importance of inclusion.
Unfortunately, the value of sport is sometimes lost in the great emphasis placed on winning. The events that occurred in the Olympic Badminton competition highlighted how the focus on winning can blur the lines of acceptable sportsmanship and cause the Olympic ideals to fall by the wayside. Even the recent decision by Lance Armstrong to state, “Enough is enough,” in the court battle with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency calls attention to the good and bad of winning that often goes beyond the person and infiltrates the sport.
We have been told from a very young age to try our best, so how is it that when we focus only on winning we no longer know what is right? Anyone who has heard parents in the viewing stands yelling obscenities at the referee, or who has heard a father threaten his child understands why this question is important. A child chosen last for a team, or perhaps not chosen at all but instead told to keep score knows how devastating it can be when winning is placed in front of what is right or what is best for all. I am the mother of two young girls and I have often used the quote, “Life is not always fair.” At some level, I understand that competition has its place in life. I also know that every day we make choices, and those choices define us. It is my hope that if my girls have to choose either to win, or to make another child feel included, that they will choose the latter.
The opportunity to participate in sport can have a lasting effect, and for children with disabilities participation is often significantly limited. Many times the school environment exposes a child to sport for the first time. Perhaps if some of this year’s current Paralympians had not participated in adapted physical education or attended a camp that revealed the possibilities, they would not be where they are today. For all parents and advocates alike, it is important to know the rights of a child with a disability.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that no individual shall be excluded because of a disability from programs that receive federal funds. Physical Education (PE) is a federally mandated component of special education services, which includes physical or motor fitness, fundamental motor skills, and skills in individual/group games and sports. Parents can advocate for adapted physical education and recreation in a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Schools are required to modify games or activities according to the abilities of the child. Daily PE is encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as the health benefits are measurable. In fact, one of Healthy People (HP) 2020’s objectives is to increase the proportion of the Nation’s public and private schools requiring daily physical education for all students. Shockingly, the target is only 4.2% in elementary schools, 8.6 % in middle and junior high schools, and 2.3% in senior high schools, and this reflects a 10% increase of the baseline measures!
HP 2020 also has an objective to increase the proportion of adolescents who participate in daily school physical education. This objective aims to increase participation to 36.6% (a 10% increase). However, only a handful of states currently mandate daily Physical Education (PE). Many schools allow kids to be exempted from PE, and the most common reason is a sensory, cognitive, or physical disability. The policies that support teachers are also lacking. Only a few states require school districts to hire Certified Adapted Physical Educators (CAPE). States that do not require a CAPE teacher rely on the general PE teacher, who may have only taken a brief class on adaptation and may have no hands-on experience working with children with disabilities.
PE participation has so many benefits, and there are ways to promote not only PE participation, but also competitive sports in schools. Just ask Coach Mike Miragliuolo from Green Hope High School in Cary, North Carolina. His cross-country team has more than 230 runners who work to achieve personal goals and to excel as a team. The Green Hope Falcons have won three straight NCHSAA 4A girls' titles and the team is favored to add a fourth this year. A 2008 USA Today story about the team mentions Nathan Baker. He was a team member and, secondly, a person with cerebral palsy who is deaf. Nathan is now a junior at UNC Greensboro and is managing the championship men’s soccer team there. I thank my colleague Debbie Thorpe, PT, PhD, PCS, for sharing Nathan’s story, which reminds me of the Paralympic values of courage, determination, inspiration and equality! Go USA!